There is a clear and growing demand for strong leadership in our nation, especially among the communities that haven’t always been the spotlight of our current political structure.
Traditionally, politics has been oriented to the audiences that have already been included in the system: the families with strong political networks, the communities that have a larger influence in political decisions, and the children who have been born with a political spoon in their mouth. For as long as I can remember, elections have been dominated by the “majority” both locally and nationally, and that “majority” has always taken control of the direction of our country.
However, on November 6, 2012, Americans experienced something less familiar: the youth vote, as well as voters in underrepresented communities, particularly in Asian Pacific Islander communities, represented a larger portion of the voter turnout than four years ago.
But what is the reason behind the fact that increasingly more youth and communities of color are turning out to vote? What is changing in our politics that is inspiring us to engage in a different way? Last year, I chose to begin my political career at the Washington Bus with these exact questions in mind. As a young person, political access isn’t the easiest to shuffle through. As a woman of color, I sought to open the box, and challenge the boundaries that currently define our political discussions.
The very core of the Washington Bus believes in critically and comprehensively investing in people with the vision of authentically engaging with communities that shape and define our society. The Bus brings the integrity back in the heart of politics, beginning with us: the young folks.
We saw on November 6 the power of our generation. For example, a year ago, the Bus was proud to announce our partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and Washington United for Marriage to bring marriage equality to our state. Marriage is not only an issue of extending fundamental rights to all people, but a generational one as well.
This past year, the Bus registered 14, 357 young people to vote. Our volunteers knocked on over 20,000 doors state-wide for progressive causes, and called over 95,000 people to inform them on Referendum 74. We put on the largest costumed get out the vote canvass for marriage equality in the state, called Trick or Vote, where 350 people gathered to go knock on over 8,000 doors in Seattle. We observed that inviting young people into the political process delivered results. R74 was approved and now marriage equality for all is a reality in Washington state.
This year proved that it isn’t an enthusiasm gap that divides young people and politics. It’s a question of access. Inviting young people into the political process is the reason why they show up, and turn out to vote.
The API community is another group that is beginning to gain more attention in local and national media. In every state in the country, the Asian American population has increased by at least 30 percent in the last decade — 50 percent overall between 2000 and 2010. There are more Asian Americans seeking higher political office than ever before. Young people and API communities are consistently proving to be an enormous force in our electoral politics. The makeup of our country is changing and our politics need to begin to reflect that.
The Washington Bus sees this exact need, and works tirelessly to unite a powerful group of voices, beginning with youth development. The Bus Fellowship is a highly sought-after political leadership program in our state because of its ability to capture and reflect the issues that affect our communities and effectively work with youth so that they can gain skills to build tangible political leadership throughout our state. It is an opportunity to learn about the civic patterns and structure of Washington state politics and designed for those who are ready to commit themselves to public service. Our fellowship chronicles the movements that are making history today.
As a young woman of color, it takes familiarity with the system and its people to feel connected and motivated to engage myself and others in the democratic process. I want to see my representatives holding the values and priorities I hold, as well as understanding the communities and experiences that I come from. Only then will you know that they will be the best champion for you, fighting to break down the barriers they once had, and ensuring the highest level of honesty in their work.
Change begins with ordinary people working in their communities to inspire collective action. When we are given a voice, our spirits are lifted. When we receive information, we feel empowered. We feel connected, informed, and invigorated to walk the line of politics and continue to engage ourselves and our peers year round. Democracy has a responsibility to include all voices in the discourse.
To learn more about the Bus, visit www.washingtonbus.org.